En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Friday - August 03, 2012

From: Hillsboro, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives
Title: Why are invasive, non-natives being sold from Hillsboro TX
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Why are nurseries allowed to grow and sell seed from invasive non-native plants like: johnson grass, bermuda grass, and king ranch bluestem? Many times when I contact a nursery or seed distributor asking what "Natives" they sale, they start by telling me about bermuda grass. My ignorant neighbor sought guidance from the NRCS (National Soil Conservation Service) and planted what they recommended - king ranch bluestem! The US government lists invasive weeds as dangerous for the US but then other departments help spread their use and make money for the companies selling them. Companies selling invasive plants should at the least be off limits for government agencies to do business with! Please explain!

ANSWER:

We think the old saw, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." applies here.  While you know and we know that the grasses you mentioned are invasive species in Texas, not everyone considers them to be a problem.  In fact, many people are openly hostile to the notion that introduced species are anything but a positive development since they consider adding new species to an ecosystem a way to increase species diversity.  They fail to realize the long-term opposite effect of decreased diversity, by loss of native species and harm done to native wildlife.

For non-native, invasive species with little or no economic benefit, the task of convincing folks they're undesirable is relatively easy.  However, grasses like Bermuda and KR Bluestem are well-established in agriculture as livestock forage.  Moreover, these two easily-established and relatively drought tolerant grasses are popular with TXDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) and other land managers as erosion control species.  Johnsongrass has fewer fans, but many ranchers encourage it since cattle and other livestock seem to prefer it over most other grasses.

The problem isn't limited to grasses and ranching.  Many invasive species are denizens of our waterways, farms and home landscapes.  A significant percientage of invasive species were introduced by horticulture.  For example, various privet species (Ligustrum spp.) have desirable characteristics as landscape ornamentals and are very important to the nursery industry.  The problem in Texas and in other parts of America is that privets have a propensity to escape from cultivation and displace native plants and upset the natural balance of some ecosystems.  How big of a problem that is depends on who you talk to.  But just about every invasive species has a champion who thinks their pet non-native is just wonderful.

Happily, many invasives are early-succession species that occupy the niche created when soils are disturbed.  Left to it's own devices, a natural ecosystem will heal from a disturbance over time and many natives will gradually out-compete the invaders.  This is not true for all invasives in all ecosystems, though.  Of course, in an agriculture and in some other land-use settings where soils are continually disturbed, invasive species often have little or no competition.

At the heart of Lady Bird Johnson's idea for establishing the organization that now bears her name is the belief that landscapes are healthiest and most complete when their flora are composed of native species.  Other organizations have missions that are focused on other concerns.  By and large, most government agencies are compelled to support whatever actions have the most positive economic or public welfare impacts to the citizens.  If their research shows them that recommending the use of a non-native species will have the most positive economic benefit for their constituents, they are duty-bound to make those recommendations. 

For the most part, only those invasive species that have been given the legal designation of "noxious" are excluded from any governmental recommenadations.  Plant species officially listed as noxious weeds invariably have a severe economic impact - usually to agriculture.

The burden of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and of more enlightened citizens like you is to educate people and agencies about the often-unrecognized costs of using non-native species and the economic advantages and other benefits of using native plant species instead.

 

More Non-Natives Questions

Covering dead arborvitae with non-native ivy from Niles MI
April 14, 2013 - I have a severely thinning arborvitae hedge. It is probably too shady, but I want the privacy. I'm thinking of planting something like ivy to fill the gaps. I know it will probably kill the hedge, bu...
view the full question and answer

Non-native astilbe resemblance to non-native poisonous castor bean from Tomslake BC
May 21, 2014 - I have a plant that looks like a castor bean but it has flowers like a Younique Silvery Pink Astilbe. Need to id because castor bean is poisonous. This plant grows up to 5 feet in height. Thank you !
view the full question and answer

Care of the non-native Aralias (Genus Polyscias)
January 04, 2008 - Today I purchased a POLYSCIAS common name "Aralia" I was told that can be happy inside, little light. Please could you inform me how to take care: feeding, fertilizing, watering needs? Does it bl...
view the full question and answer

Transplant time for small smoke tree from Battle Ground WA
June 01, 2014 - When do I transplant a smoke tree that is still young, about a foot high? It is too close to a fence, which I fear will be a problem as it gets big. I live in Battle Ground, WA which is zone 6.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on women trying to conceive
July 10, 2005 - RE: Eucalyptus. Is this bad for women trying to conceive? The smell is very powerful.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center